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Monday, July 16, 2018

The case of a missing guru

The Haridwar locality that has been witness to both Ramdev’s rise and his guru’s disappearance recalls an ascetic swami who never imagined trusts he founded would one day become multi-crore business ventures

Written by Sanjay Singh | Haridwar | Published: April 7, 2013 2:36:09 am

It was nearly six years ago that a 77-year-old went missing suddenly and without a trace from Haridwar’s Kankhal locality. No proper FIR was lodged till,this year,the Uttarakhand government decided to hand over the case to the CBI. Simple and ascetic he may have been in real life,but in his disappearance,Swami Shankar Dev looms large for what has followed in its wake: the rise and rise of disciple Baba Ramdev.

It was from Shankar Dev that yoga guru-turned-activist Ramdev got “diksha” in 1995. Shankar Dev had then declared Ramdev his successor. The same year,Shankar Dev founded the Divya Yog Mandir and Patanjali Yogpeeth trusts. Ramdev is named as among the founders on the trusts’ websites.

Those trusts,by Ramdev’s own admission,now hold capital of Rs 249.63 crore and Rs 164.80 crore respectively. Those who knew Shankar Dev doubt he ever envisaged the trusts to become multi-crore business ventures—a belief that now hangs heavy over the mystery surrounding the swami’s disappearance on July 14,2007.

Born in 1930 in Uttarakhand’s Almora district,Shankar Dev left home at the age of 15 for Haridwar. Here,he came in touch with Swami Kripalu Dev Maharaj and took “diksha” from Swami Inder Dev in 1958. In 1968,Shankar Dev came to live in the Kankhal ashram. He lived in the same simple house he had moved in till the day he was last seen. As Ramdev grew in prominence,and other buildings came up on the ashram premises,that house has stayed the way Shankar Dev left it.

What has further fuelled speculation about the disappearance is that the Uttarakhand Police treated the FIR filed by Ramdev’s close associate Acharya Balkrishna as ‘Nil’. In Uttarakhand,all missing cases are registered as ‘Nil’,meaning IPC sections can’t be applied. After the CBI communicated to the state government the problem in taking up the case in the absence of a proper FIR,the state police got all the missing reports converted into proper FIRs as kidnapping cases under the IPC,including the Shankar Dev case.

Balakrishna himself has been booked in a money laundering case and was arrested last year on the charge of providing fake documents to obtain a passport. Despite attempts,he could not be contacted.

Pramod Krishnam of Kalki Peeth,on whose petition the CBI probe was instituted,said he had been seeking an investigation by the central agency in the Shankar Dev case from the beginning. “Why was the missing report lodged after two days? There is no reason for a saint to disappear at the age of 77 years,” Krishnam,who is president of an organisation called the Akhil Bhartiya Sant Samiti,says,hinting that there could have been differences between him and his disciples over business plans,and that Shankar Dev could not have been in favour of the commercial use of the Divya Yog Mandir Trust. 

In April 2011,Krishnam had met then President Pratibha Patil seeking a CBI probe. In October 2012,he petitioned Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna.

Baba Hathyogi,who claims to have enjoyed a good relationship with Shankar Dev,says: “Unlike Ramdev and Balkrishna,Shankar Dev didn’t have high ambitions.” Hathyogi also asks why the third known disciple of Shankar Dev,Karamvir,had disassociated himself from Ramdev and Balkrishna. Locals said Karamvir was now settled in Mumbai.

Another sadhu of Shankar Dev’s generation is Mahendra Singh,who heads the Nirmal Santpura ashram,also located in Kankhal. Singh said Shankar Dev had consulted him before shifting his “gaddi (the seat which he occupied as the head of his ashram)” to Ramdev. “It was the year 1995 when Shankar Dev invited sadhus from Haridwar’s various akharas and mutts to his ashram. He offered a saffron chadar to Ramdev and declared him his successor.”

Singh also claims that Shankar Dev hardly ever ventured far from his ashram,at best spending a lot of time at Santpura ashram. For a minor breathing problem,he took medicines from a dispensary run by the Santpura ashram,says Singh.

Dr Kamal Nayan Gambhir,a local practitioner,treated Shankar Dev for vertebral column tuberculosis. “So far as I recall,he used to come on a rickshaw. He was accompanied by a helper. He was cured of the disease six months before his disappearance and he had no complaints,” Dr Gambhir says.

DGP Satyvrat told The Sunday Express that CBI officials had contacted him in connection with the investigation. “We have assured them all possible help,” he said.

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